What Xi’s Third Term Means for Africa
Feeling secure with its influence on the continent, Beijing will take a more strategic approach in the years to come.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
The highlights this week: How Chinese President Xi Jinping’s third term might change Sino-African relations, Ethiopia begins formal peace talks with Tigrayan rebels, and security forces crack down on pro-democracy protesters in Chad.
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How Xi’s Third Term Will Shape Sino-African Relations
After nearly a decade in power, Chinese President Xi Jinping has secured a relationship with African countries unmatched since Mao Zedong, who fostered ties with newly independent governments in the 20th century. Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has led to the construction of massive infrastructure projects across Africa. Now, an economically weaker China is changing tack and wants to emphasize its political strength.
Xi secured his unprecedented third term, announced on Sunday at the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, by revising the constitution. And although Sino-African relations are stable, as Xi moves further in a totalitarian direction at home, some Western observers worry that China’s influence will further weaken democracy on the continent.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Xi prioritized visiting African countries. (By contrast, the last U.S. president to visit the continent was Barack Obama, in 2015.) The personal relationships Xi has cultivated with African leaders will likely ensure African governments seek to maintain geopolitical relations that align with China’s. This could mean a continued distance in ties with the United States and its close allies; Africans could perceive Western countries as speaking down to their governments.
At the 20th Party Congress, Xi declared that the world needs China. Africa is certainly dependent on Chinese technology and financing. Many African governments rely on Chinese artificial intelligence systems, and China dominates the smartphone market in countries such as Nigeria, the continent’s largest market, with nearly 200 million cellphone connections. One of China’s biggest smartphone-makers, Transsion, markets its Infinix and Tecno brands mainly to Africa’s 1.4 billion people.
But there is no doubt that a renewed U.S. pushback against China’s rise will affect Africa—and particularly Beijing’s dominance in the African technology market. U.S. policies to limit China’s technological rise will lead Beijing to rely even more on Africa’s natural resources, such as cobalt, which is used in semiconductor chip manufacturing. This could deepen the relationship between China and Africa.
Xi’s speech at the Party Congress suggested a renewed focus on Asia, as well as China’s rivalry with the United States. China’s zero-COVID policy—and a property crisis—has battered China’s economy. Beijing has scaled back BRI lending, leaving African economies vulnerable at a time of falling currency values, rising interest rates, and food and fuel shortages. At last year’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, China announced a $20 billion reduction in funding for the continent.
However, this doesn’t reflect a total pullback from Africa. Instead, it reflects a more strategic approach as China becomes a more experienced lender. Beijing is now part of a debt restructuring agreement with the International Monetary Fund, the G-20, and Paris Club countries. In Africa, China has shifted its lending toward more targeted investments in communications technology, agriculture, and renewable energy such as wind and solar power.
As China’s attention pivots toward Asia, African leaders may not be able to capitalize on great-power rivalry as much as they have in the past. They may be losing some of their leverage with Beijing. The consultancy firm McKinsey estimates that more than 10,000 Chinese businesses operate in Africa and 90 percent are privately owned. Since private Chinese companies now drive much of Beijing’s soft power in Africa, African leaders must start pushing for fairer business terms, as well as other demands from African citizens.
Since 2006, Nigeria and China have partnered on special economic zones, which offer a fixed-term break from federal and local taxes for Chinese companies manufacturing goods for overseas export. But cheaper Chinese alternatives have decimated Nigeria’s once-thriving textile industry. Meanwhile in Ghana, private Chinese firms are exploring ways to grow and export cocoa—the country’s biggest cash crop. Similar activities are seeding animosity as Africans accuse Chinese businesses of not only pricing them out of livelihoods but also fueling environmental degradation.
Future partnerships must foresee how goods manufactured by African companies can move up the export chain. African countries are currently implementing a continental free trade bloc that China helped broker. Because trade deals tend to favor China, the agreement still has the potential to harm local industries, as Oluwatosin Adeshokan wrote in Foreign Policy last year.
With Xi beginning his next decade in power, African leaders must begin pursuing what they want from Beijing, rather than remaining a largely one-way contributor to China’s economic growth.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, Oct. 26: South African Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana presents the country’s medium-term budget statement.
The United Nations Security Council holds a briefing on the Great Lakes region.
Wednesday, Oct. 26, to Thursday, Oct. 27: African Union Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat meets Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa, Canada, during the first ever high-level dialogue between Canada and the AU.
Wednesday, Oct. 26, to Saturday, Oct. 29: Zimbabwe’s ruling party, ZANU-PF, chooses a party leader ahead of elections next year.
Thursday, Oct. 27: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez meets South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in Pretoria, South Africa.
The U.N. Security Council meets for a briefing on Sudan and South Sudan and to adopt resolutions on Western Sahara.
Tuesday, Nov. 1, to Wednesday, Nov. 2: Algeria hosts the Arab League summit.
What We’re Watching
Ethiopia peace talks. The Ethiopian government and Tigrayan rebel forces began their first formal peace talks on Tuesday, mediated by the African Union in Pretoria, South Africa. The talks are being steered by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, former South African Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Details of the negotiations have not been revealed, but a spokesperson for the Tigrayan forces said on Twitter that they demanded an immediate cessation of hostilities, unfettered humanitarian access in Tigray, and the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from the region. The conflict has lasted for more than two years, leaving thousands of people dead, displacing millions, and pushing millions to the brink of famine.
Flooding in Nigeria. Floods after heavy rainfall have affected 34 of Nigeria’s 36 states, undermining gas and oil production as well as domestic food production. The natural disaster has affected some 2.5 million people and displaced 1.3 million.
Despite early warnings from the Nigerian Meteorological Agency, the federal government was slow to take steps to mitigate the damage caused by the floods. Over the weekend, the Lagos state government held a meeting to discuss the city’s preparedness after flood alerts were issued in the area. Lagos had previously been spared the worst of the rising waters.
Violent crackdown in Chad. Around 50 people were killed and nearly 300 injured in Chad last Thursday, when security forces cracked down on protesters who took to the streets in the capital and other cities to demand a quicker transition to democratic rule. Chadian Prime Minister Saleh Kebzabo described the incident as an “armed insurrection,” but human rights groups say those killed were unarmed.
Opposition and civil society groups had called for the protests to mark the end of an initially agreed 18-month transition period following a de facto coup in April 2021. Chad’s military leader Mahamat Idriss Déby seized power after his father, President Idriss Déby, died fighting against rebels. Déby, who is backed by France, was officially sworn in for another two-year term as president on Oct. 10 after a so-called national dialogue organized by the junta approved a delay to democratic elections.
On Monday, U.S. Agency for International Development head Samantha Power said the United States would “continue to support the people of Chad in their pursuit of a civilian government elected via a free and fair process.”
This Week in Tech
Somalia’s oil deal. A controversial $7 million oil production sharing deal between Somalia and the U.S. firm Coastline Exploration has received the go-ahead after several revisions. The deal, which covers seven oil blocs, caused a political rift when it was announced in February because then-President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed declared it void, citing a presidential decree that barred government agencies from entering into international contracts during an election period.
Coastline said last Friday that it had paid the $7 million signature bonus to the Somali Central Bank and estimates that each of the oil fields could produce 100,000 barrels of oil a day. “We want the first exploration well to start as soon as possible,” Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said. “Energy independence, new tax revenues, and further foreign investment in Somalia now beckons.”
With fuel prices soaring, Senegal, Uganda, Mozambique, and Tanzania are all exploring new gas and oil projects. However, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned in June that new funding for gas and oil exploration is “delusional” in the face of the climate crisis.
Chart of the Week
Chinese officials and diplomats have invested a lot of time in traveling around the African continent. Between 2007 and 2017, top Chinese leaders made a total of 79 visits to 43 African countries, helping to eventually power a record $254 billion worth of trade between China and Africa in 2021.
FP’s Most Read This Week
• What the Hell Just Happened to Hu Jintao? by James Palmer
• As War Hits the Homefront, Russia’s Defeat Inches Closer by Alexey Kovalev
What We’re Reading
South Africa’s energy crisis. In a deep dive in amaBhungane, Susan Comrie examines what went wrong with South Africa’s state-run power company, Eskom. Unrealistic government targets and a lack of financing resulted in Eskom operating with bare-minimum safety standards. “You are just keeping yourself legal from an engineering perspective,” Logan Reddy, who is in charge of long-term power station planning at Eskom, told amaBhungane.
Ghana’s climate adaptation. In the Fourth Estate, Edmund Agyemang Boateng compares statements about tackling climate change made by Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo with his government’s measures, arguing that many forward-planning policies have missed their timelines for implementation due to inaction. Out of the 14.5 billion Ghanaian cedis (about $1 billion at current rates) budgeted for climate change projects, only 519 million ($37 million) was actually allocated.
Nosmot Gbadamosi is a multimedia journalist and the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Africa Brief. She has reported on human rights, the environment, and sustainable development from across the African continent. Twitter: @nosmotg
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